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Posted by Robin Smith-Duke on February 18, 2016
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The fossil remains of a newly discovered human ancestor, Homo naledi, rest under lock and key in Johannesburg, South Africa. But all you can require is a computer and 3D printing device to take a nearer appear at them.This is a 3D scan of the fossilized skull of Homo naledi, an ancient human whose remains were discovered in a South African cave. The creature is one of extra
than 500 extinct species whose fossil scans are on the market for anyone to download at MorphoSource.org. (Reconstruction by Peter Schmid and Ashley Kruger, University of the Witwatersrand)Those fossils and hundreds of others are now on the market in a free online database of digital scans which anyone can download and 3D print.
“We’re fundamentally bringing bones out of museum catacombs and putting them online.”
MorphoSource is the biggest and most open digital fossil repository of its kind.
“We’re fundamentally bringing bones out of museum catacombs and putting them online,” says Doug Boyer, an assistant professor at Duke University who launched the site in 2013.
Visitors to the site can zoom in or out and rotate the fossil scans, download them, and actually manufacture their own physical copies to hold in their hands via 3D printing.
It is a far cry of past practices in the field of human origins.
“Paleoanthropology is traditionally a closed great ol’ boy network where fieldwork is done in secret and findings are kept secret,” says Duke evolutionary anthropology professor Stactually Churchill, a member of the team which discovered and mentioned Homo naledi.
“Researchers frequently sit on fossils for years and years preceding publishing, and and so actually after publication it can be complex to see the fossils or actually see casts of them,” Churchill says.
By contrast, the Homo naledi team is bringing advantage of MorphoSource to manufacture their discoveries extra
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When the discovery was revealed in September 2015, the authors released high-resolution scans of extra
than 80 key specimens to the MorphoSource repository.
The naledi find comes of a deep underground chamber where just a few can at any time hope to acquire access. The extra
than 1,500 bones brought to the surface so far represent parts of at very least 15 people, ranging of infants to adults, producing it one of the biggest caches of fossil hominins at any time discovered.
Less than 12 hours after the Homo naledi discovery was revealed, students in anthropologist Kristina Killgrove’s class at the University of West Florida were may already poring over 3D printed pieces of the creature’s jaw, legs, hands, and skull which Killgrove had downloaded and printed on her lab’s computer 3D printing device.
Within three months, the Homo naledi 3D scans were saw a staggering 43,000 times and downloaded an extra
“We’re quite proud of which,” Churchill says.
9,000 images files so far
3D imaging of fossils is not new. A technique called micro-computed tomography uses X-rays to turn it into a 3D model of a fossil of a series of cross-sectional slices, via an amped-up model of the CT scanners discovered in hospitals and emergency rooms.
The innovation manufactures it possible to capture details most times finer than a human hair, and peer within specimens without breaking them open or actually laying a finger on the fragile originals.
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“Many specimens in anthropology collections are pock-marked where dozens of researchers have set their calipers to retake the same measurements,” Boyer says.
In the last ten years, faster 3D scanning and cheaper digital storage space have made it possible to scan thousands of bones in a matter of weeks. Numerous institutions have rushed to scan and digitize their fossil collections, but MorphoSource is one of the just efforts to consolidate the resulting data and put it in one place.
Giant snake and devil frog
In the three years since the archive was turn it intod, researchers and educators of extra
than 70 institutions across the globe have uploaded close to 9,000 image files. To date, the collection represents extra
than 500 species, which include a 40-thousand-year-old Neanderthal skull of Israel, delicate water beetles of New Guinea, and bits of a swamp-dwelling dinosaur called Telmatosaurus.
Visitors can in addition find just about two dozen teeth of a 60-foot prehistoric shark named Megalodon, vertebrae of a huge 40-foot, 2500-pound snake called Titanoboa, and the comical bones of a 16-inch devil frog of Madagascar which resembled a squashed beach ball.
Many of the fossil scans in addition come with lesson plans which teachers can use in the classroom through an intiative called PaleoTEACH.
The scans go on to come in. Earlier this month, Boyer and other researchers uploaded 3D data for extra
than 400 skulls plus extra
bones of 59 species of monkeys, apes, and lemurs housed at the Museum of Comparative Zoology at Harvard.
“Paleoanthropology has been relying on digital data extra
,” Boyer says. “Before we released this dataset, just a dozen labs around the world had digital samples which sizeable at their fingertips. Overnight we leveled the playing field in a worthwhile way.”
MorphoSource is supported by Duke and by grants of the National Science Foundation.
Source: Duke University
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